Hands On: First Impressions of Turn-Based Game ‘Inkulinati’ on Nintendo Switch
Yaza Games’ Medieval scribe-inspired turn-based battler, Inkulinati, is coming to Switch on 22nd February. It’s picked up several awards since its Early Access release on Steam, including Gamescom 2022’s Best Indie Game and Most Original Game, so it’s great to see the full version finally penned in on Switch (and other consoles). We managed to get our hands on a pre-release copy of the game, and following an opening section that we felt was a tad text-heavy, we came away impressed after an hour or so with the Switch version.
To the uninitiated, the game puts you in the role of a ye olde scribe who creates and enacts turn-based battles between anthropomorphised, weapon-wielding animals, all depicted on a scroll that frequently shows the hands of the aforementioned player character and your opponent onscreen as you draw new beasties, push them around, and generally direct your troops across the inky battlefield.
Firstly, Inkulinati’s isn’t the most easygoing of introductions. Heading into the Academy for the tutorial, its opening minutes throw an abundance of text and some cluttered UI at you, which can be overwhelming. The camera scootches between different beasts and spaces, some with green archways over them, others purple or yellow. There’s a lot of visual info and icons that might have been stripped away at first or otherwise streamlined, especially as much of the info is repeated in Journey mode, which sets you off on a storied campaign.Combat operates on a logical, turn-based 2D system and it’s simple enough once you get your bearings, with inked platforms soon connecting to others via ladders, and a host of scenic objects — from exploding cauldrons to tents spawning enemies — opening up new options for besting your opponent. A well-placed arrow can make short work of enemy troops in the vicinity of an exploding barrel.
Another factor in Inkulinati’s bulky beginning is a dissonance between how you, the Medieval ink-wielder whose whims conduct the battle with god-like oversight, have an on-screen (on-scroll?) hand yet Switch’s touchscreen isn’t employed here. It’s not a huge deal, and the stick and button controls are perfectly serviceable, but for a game that quite literally displays the player’s massive hand as you choose to draw beasts, poke and prod at them, and control your Tiny — an on-page avatar of sorts — the lack of touchscreen control was very apparent as we played in handheld mode. We found ourselves scouring the Settings just in case we’d missed something.
Once our perplexion subsided, however, we settled down to a very pleasant few rounds of turn-based battling. Tooltips and instructions are toggleable, so once you know what you’re doing and all those colours and icons make sense, you’re able to clean the screen up a little.Battles are divided into Chapters. You draw up to five beasts using ink from a pool you must replenish by collecting blots across the battlefield, and you direct your animal army of various classes (melee, ranged, etc) to defeat enemy creatures. Attack power depends on landing a pointer on the highest number before a timer runs out, introducing an element timing-based skill alongside the strategy. You accrue Boredom points across Chapters if you keep drawing the same beasts, too, encouraging you to keep things fresh and engage with other unit types and playstyles.
Your aforementioned ‘Tiny’ — essentially a mini ‘you’ — has the limited ability to push and pull beasts both friendly and foe-ly, shifting them away from resources or even to their doom off the edge of a platform. Likewise, different units have abilities beyond just moving and attacking, with status effects and other (de)buffs available to turn the tide of battle.
Different units, hand actions, and talents, which offer battle-wide perks, are locked behind Prestige points gained through play, and it’s clear that Inkulinati has plenty of variety up its sleeve. Prestige also opens up previously unselectable dialogue options as you journey across a map from battle to battle, stopping off at taverns and shops along the way. Pausing at an Alehouse between battles, different options offer health and ink replenishments, max health increases, and more depending on your level.From the beginning, the writing jumps out as a highlight. We encountered a couple of Masters and even Death himself in the opening stages, and they all had us chuckling with irreverent lines and a tone which blends Monty Python and Medieval memes.
As with many a strategy game, the complexity at the beginning presents a small barrier to overcome, and we generally prefer to learn by doing rather than reading. Inkulinati — perhaps appropriately if you’re feeling generous — throws a lot of text and icons at you at the very start. Once you’re past the tutorial stages, though, it offers up some hilarious turn-based battling with attractive Medieval trappings, at least in its opening stages.There’s loads we haven’t touched on, including different army options, Duel options, and period-appropriate audio that shoots the animal-army strategy through with just the right amount of tongue in its cheek. We really would have liked to see some touchscreen implementation on Switch, but from what we’ve played so far, Inkulinati is a premise with promise — one of which it’s worth taking note, sire.
Inkulinati is out on Switch on 22nd February for $24.99 / £21.59. Let us know your thoughts below.